Summary: Batman: Arkham City is the sequel to 2009’s smash-hit action game Batman: Arkham Asylum. As the name suggests, you will be reprising your role as the Caped Crusader and going against an even larger 'prison' filled with Gotham's criminals and villains. A textbook example on how to do a proper sequel, Arkham City takes what worked in the original, excised or improved upon what didn’t, and elevated everything to an even greater scope. The PC version suffered from a few months of delay, but in that time, Rocksteady worked closely to NVIDIA to implement some familiar technologies from the last game, such as PhysX and 3D Vision, along with new DirectX 11 optimizations. But how well was the whole package executed? Read on to find out!
He knew he shouldn’t be out at this hour. It was pure foolishness, but he had to… for his wife if no one else. As if on cue, a voice shouted out from a darkened corner, “Hey buddy, where’re ya goin’?” The figure stepped out of the shadows and began following the man, grabbing him in three long steps. The dark figure, now a scarred and misshapen being, began sifting through the man’s pockets. In a desperate plea the man shouted for help, only to be hit in the gut. Then a gust of wind and a flash of black seemingly erased the hoodlum from existence. A quick glance to the man’s right revealed a caped silhouette beneath the bright moon – the Dark Knight himself.
Batman: Arkham City is the sequel to 2009’s smash-hit action game Batman: Arkham Asylum. As the name suggests, you will be reprising your role as the Caped Crusader against an even larger city-sized ‘prison.’ Arkham City is a textbook example on how to do a proper sequel: take what worked in the original, excise or improve upon what didn’t, and elevate that concept to an even greater scope. The PC version suffered from a few months of delay, but in response Rocksteady (the talented UK developers of BAA) has reintroduced the NVIDIA exclusives from the last game such as PhysX and 3D Vision, along with new DirectX 11 optimizations. How well it was executed, however, is up for some debate.
Like its predecessor, BAC will have you performing amazing feats of martial prowess as you beat down hundreds of brain-dead henchmen in your efforts to make the world a little bit better. This time, however, you get to do it in a quarantined, run-down section of Gotham City that is completely open for you to explore. Also new to the series is the ability to play as Catwoman (and other characters), a slew of creative puzzles, and tons of side-quests and challenges that seriously extend the game’s content and replayability. Arkham City also throws in pretty much every imaginable villain in the franchise into one game for every DC Comics fan to cream over.
Taking place six months after the disastrous events on Arkham Island, Mayor Quincy Sharp (the Asylum’s former warden) has built a new prison to house all of Gotham’s less-than-savory residents. However, the prison is more like an anarchistic ghetto where it’s every man for himself, while the main villains (Two Face, Joker, and the Penguin) wage a gang-war on each other for territory. Understandably, Bruce Wayne/Batman is perplexed by the idiotic idea of a free realm devoted solely to crime and tries to get to the bottom of it. Along the way, there will be plot twists, new threads of mystery, an endless menagerie of villains to work with and against, as well as riddles to solve for (who else?) the Riddler.
The brilliant voice-over cast from the first game returns to reprise their respective roles, including another outstanding performance by Mark Hamill as the Joker, for the last time. Also returning are every single gadget from the original game, but you get four new tools to use in your crusade against crime. Detective Mode has also been revamped, along with the “Freeflow” combat system, and Unreal Engine 3 has never looked better.
Ka-pow! Bap! Whamm! CRASH!
In fact, Catwoman was one of the best parts of the game. Her sarcastic remarks and nonchalant demeanor were a wonderful foil to Batman’s serious and straightforward brooding. Unfortunately, her story arch is only a few hours long and played in three short segments that are very far apart. I completely forgot about her half-way through the campaign but thankfully you are given the ability to play as her during the free-roam endgame.
The campaign is around 15 hours long, depending on the time you take looking at the beautifully detailed world and being distracted by side quests and puzzles. The side-missions themselves add another 10 or so, and a great chunk of your time will be devoted to solving as many of the 440 Riddler challenges as you can stomach (I only got to 220 before I gave up). Some of the side-missions are at the same quality as the campaign, but there are a few that are extraordinarily tedious and repetitive, especially when you need to meet certain requirements like getting a specific gadget or an amount of Riddler Trophies. Though there [thankfully] isn’t as much backtracking as in Arkham Asylum, there is still enough revisiting of old locations to begin to wear you down after a while.
Along with the action-packed content is a great deal of puzzle-solving. Though they’re not really the main focus of the game, throughout the world you will find traps and trophies that can absorb several hours with solving and gathering. Do keep in mind that many puzzles require the use of special gadgets and upgrades that you can only get through the completion of parts of the campaign. So, don’t be fooled by all of the open-world goodness and completely eschew the main story missions for free-roaming exploration, or you might find that many hours have been wasted when you realize you can’t complete something you’ve been working towards. The endgame will allow you to do everything you missed… provided you’re not already burned out and done with the game by then.
Arkham City itself is a wonderful ruin of art deco, neo-gothic, and art nouveau architecture that really adds to the dark atmosphere of the game. And by dark I mean “How the hell is this rated ‘T’ for Teen?” From blood, audible torture, disfigurement, and impalement, to Catwoman’s wonderfully exposed bosom (complete with realistic jiggling!), somebody at Warner Bros. must have greased the palms of the ESRB or something. I’m quite surprised the family values advocacy groups aren’t in an uproar and calling the ratings system a fraud. This really just exposes the farce that is video game politics. Nevertheless, Batman has always been about pushing the boundaries and I’m glad to see BAC is no exception.
Arkham Meat Grinder
What kept me interested, however, was the well-written plot. There is a mysterious countdown to “Protocol 10,” the fact that people are being randomly thrown into prison with no judicial process, and the Joker might be dying (but knowing the Joker he might also be lying). The city is breathtakingly gorgeous in spite of the decay and without revealing too much, I will say there are some amazing underground locations. To those who grew up watching Batman: The Animated Series back in the ‘90s, you will love all of the familiar voice-actors and the same writer, Paul Dini, who carefully integrates the vast world of Batman into one game (even if perhaps less would have been more). Along the way BAC pulls off one twist, undoes it, and then throws down an unapologetic ending that you won’t see coming. Hell, even the Joker hilariously tells you that it reminds him of a particular TV show (you’ll know what it is).
A special shout-out goes to the Mad Hatter’s side-mission. I loved the surreal environment – a dream sequence done right. Other side-missions include solving the Riddler’s riddles to rescue a bunch of hostages, rescuing Mr. Freeze’s wife, conducting detective work and analyzing forensic evidence to uncover several serial killers, and stopping a phone booth murderer. There are also in-world instances of violence for you to stop and a few other quests, but they’re all throwaways.
The real highlight of the game is how improved the combat mechanics are. The Free-flow system is a lot more fluid, most gadgets can be quick-fired, and you get all of the gadgets from the first game at the beginning (and they stay with you). They’ve been upgraded since the last game, including allowing you to change directions with the line launcher in mid-air and use it as a tight-rope or maneuvering your remote-controlled batarangs with a brake and boost. The new gadgets are equally awesome, like a taser rifle that can power-up generators and doors, a freeze grenade that can create improvised ice floats on water, smoke pellets that hide you from enemies, and the grappling gun that can boost you into the air rather than just onto a ledge. Gliding is much improved, allowing you to stay in the air perpetually through a combination of diving and rising (much like in Super Mario World).
You get the opportunity to use all of these new gadgets and moves throughout the game. Batman will frequently become swamped by at least a dozen henchmen at the same time (the odds are stacked even higher on more than one occasion), each with different weapons and armor, and it’s up to you to kick their ass. I was surprised by just how well Batman maneuvered around so many enemies and pulverized them into dust. It was very involving trying to get rid of specific enemies using special gadgets or moves whilst a dozen other people were hitting you (rather than one or two at a time). And yet it never felt overwhelming or tiresome. Rocksteady has made one of the best action games I’ve ever played. The satisfaction of witnessing 20 or so limp bodies all around you while Batman is just brushing off the dust from his cape is exhilarating.
BAC is an exciting stealth game, too, but not all that improved from the original. I wish the henchmen would be a little bit more scared of you and creative in their efforts to stop you. I found myself using the exact same tactics from the original game: swooping from gargoyle to gargoyle and snatching up people one-by-one as they split up. There is a lot of room for improvement here, and it sucks that Rocksteady neglected it for the most part. Although there is one new, nifty gadget that allows you to disable firearms from afar or detonate enemy mines. The reaction of an enemy when you drop down in front of him and his gun goes “click, click” is memorable, to say the least.
You want to play the game? WELL, TOO BAD!
I’m sure that, by now, you’ve heard the news about the game’s broken DirectX 11 implementation. Apparently, Rocksteady released an older DX11 build by accident, so everyone got some horrendous stuttering no matter the hardware. The latest patch improved it, but does not completely fix the problem for everyone, and so I’m still having issues. That’s fine, though, as DirectX 11 really doesn’t add anything noticeable to the game world. Nevertheless, the graphics are gorgeous. This is the finest looking Unreal Engine 3 game ever made. A lot of attention to detail was put into it and I commend Rocksteady’s artists.
As for the consolitis (independent of the bugs) Arkham City has, by virtue of the genre, some pretty poor keyboard and mouse controls. The layout is very cumbersome and will get in the way of more complex maneuvers, so a gamepad is highly recommended. In spite of this, the game performs well enough on a keyboard that I never found myself swearing at the controls, even during some of the largest and most complex combat segments. The game’s performance is perfect on DX9 and, if you are an NVIDIA user, the PhysX alone is enough to get the PC version over anything else... even if those effects are comically exaggerated at times.
Batman: Arkham City’s awesome soundtrack deserves props, as well. The sound effects, on the other hand, could use a little bit of work. It just sounds like a cartoon (though that may have been their goal). Instead of having more debris and everything behaving as if it were on the moon, PhysX could have been better utilized by implementing dynamic weather. I kept wishing for the snowfall to accumulate on the ground or something. It irked me how running on a few roofs produces a snow-crunching sound despite there not being any snow. However, I really liked that the visual condition of your suit degrades over time, as it did in Arkham Asylum. It’s an excellent touch of detail that very few games bother with.
|<% print_image("23"); %>||<% print_image("24"); %>|
|© Copyright 2003 FS Media, Inc.|